IT Professionals – imagine this scenario.

A client reports to your Helpdesk that their PC has died. Your engineer visits the site to confirm the issue. Bringing the PC back to your workshop, the engineer concludes the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) has failed and they go about removing the faulty drive. The engineer replaces it with a fresh hard drive from the workshop’s spares shelf. The engineer reinstalls the client’s data from the image-based backup (assuming you do have image-based backups for your clients) and takes the PC back to site. Job, done.

The next day, a different client reports that their PC has also died. A different engineer visits the site and suspects the HDD in the PC has failed. The engineer brings the PC back to the workshop, opens the unit and swaps the faulty HDD for a unit they picked up in the workshop. The engineer puts the PC back together and turns it on, but it turns out the replacement HDD isn’t working either.The engineer realises that the HDD they picked up was the faulty unit their colleague removed from the earlier PC. Cursing the colleague, the engineer opens the PC up, removes the Hard Drive and replaces it with a new unit. The engineer leaves the workshop to return the now working PC to the client. As the engineer leaves, another colleague walks into the workshop needing a spare HDD to use for a test image he’s creating. He picks up the HDD from the workshop shelf, the one that two engineers have confirmed is faulty, and  so it goes on.

Frustration and wasted time and money

While this situation may sound laughable, I can tell you this happens every day in workshops across the world with components, cables and even media such as DVD and USB key disks. As a former Managed Service Provider (MSP) owner and engineer, who now spends time working with MSP’s Helpdesks, I see firsthand how much of a waste of time and energy this can be. These kinds of scenarios cause frustration for engineers and it costs IT businesses money. And it could all be prevented with the secret weapon of an engineer – a label machine!

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Labelling can save the day

So many issues of this nature could be resolved by engineers labelling items as they work. For instance, in my MSP business, engineers were each issued a label machine (I’m a fan of the Brother PT-M95, but let’s not get too geeky about hardware here) and we also had spare label machines in the office and in our workshop. As an engineer was working, they used the label machine to identify any equipment they were working on. For instance, in our opening scenario, I’d recommend that engineers:

  • Label the PC they brought into the workshop, with the Helpdesk ticket number, client company name and end-user name
  • Label the HDD they removed from the PC as “Faulty” (plus, bonus points for labelling with the fault details — SMART failure, etc.), along with “To be recycled/disposed of” and the Helpdesk ticket number
  • Put the faulty HDD on a shelf in the workshop labelled “For recycling/disposal ”

This all seems like it should be common sense, yet many MSPs simply don’t do this. They fall into the trap of working within their own head, and not acknowledging that they’re part of a team that needs to communicate — even if it is via labels!

Labels are not just for hardware

I mentioned that my engineers were all armed with label machines (which, ironically, they labelled with their name to stop other engineers from swiping it) and that’s because when they were on-site, they also put labels on:

  • Power Cables — so that when they had to talk an end-user from unplugging a cable, they could tell between the one labelled “Monitor”, “PC”, and “Printer”
  • Ethernet Cables — so that when an end-user phoned the Helpdesk to report they didn’t have any Internet connectivity, the Helpdesk Engineer could ask them to look for the cable labelled “Network” to make sure it was plugged in, without having to play “Let’s describe what an Ethernet cable looks like”
  • Servers and Routers — labelled with IP addresses. So that when another engineer visits the site and needed to test network connectivity, they don’t have to work out what IP address to PING

If you’re not convinced by the magical power of labelling, then there’s another aspect to labelling that many MSPs overlook; how professional it looks to clients. Clients like to see labels attached to equipment, especially within a communications cabinet or room. It helps to demonstrate that you, as the MSP, have taken time to install equipment professionally and shows that you are organized. As we now know, an organised MSP is a profitable MSP.

A serious reality

While I’ve talked (tongue-in-cheek) about the “magical power of labelling,” the serious reality is those MSPs that don’t label equipment and assets will typically have an underlying issue with efficiency. Poor efficiency leads to low profitability — or worse. Engineers who label are aware that their job isn’t just to work with equipment, be it a Hard Drive, a PC, or even a Router. Their job is to make sure that equipment is easily identifiable for other people to work on in the future. If your helpdesk has yet to embrace labelling, buy a few label printers and see what the impact is. Those little stickers may well start an efficiency revolution!

Photo: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

Richard Tubb

Posted by Richard Tubb

Richard Tubb is a blogger, speaker, and author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the Northeast of England. He provides expert advice to help MSPs grow their IT business, and he has helped the owners of hundreds of MSPs to free up their time, concentrate on doing what is important, and make more money.

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